Exhibition The World of the Russian Nobility. Daily Life and Amusements in the Yusupov Palace
On October 11th, the opening of a new exhibit was celebrated: “The World of the Russian Nobility. Daily Life and Amusements.” More than 400 works of painting, the applied and decorative arts, and costumes from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum tell the story of the daily life of a noble family, their leisure habits, about the upbringing of the coming generation, and the norms of etiquette that governed their lives.
During the reign of Nicholas I, as the era of historicism dawned, many become fascinated with the various artistic movements of the past. Under the influence of the European art, and especially of German Biedermeier, art for the average person, “utilitarian” decoration became fashionable in Russia: objects associated with everyday life and festivities began to shape not only the places people lives, but their attitude towards life, their habits, and sometimes even their manner of behaving. This exhibit bears witness to the life of the period, demonstrating all the details of daily life that became a part the lives of the noble classes in the 19th century.
Exhibition pieces from the State Hermitage Museum’s collection have been arranged in the Nicholas Hall of the Yusupov Palace, which was home to five generations of the famous princely line. This exhibit has been set up as a series of interior “corners:” a boudoir and dressing room, a man’s office and smoking room, a dining room and a bedchamber.
In the “Budoir and Dressing Room,” elegant furniture from the rococo era forms the backdrop from examples of the women’s clothing and fashionable ladies accessories of the nineteenth century: lace umbrellas, beaded bags, sandalwood fans, turtle and elephant bones, velvet and leather porte-monnaie, shoes made from ornamental damask and net lace, a bouquet for carrying flowers. A bureau and bookcase made from rosewood with painted porcelain insets were made in the elite furniture workshop of the Gambs brothers and decorated the White (Pink) Drawing room of the Winter Palace.
In the “Man’s Study” the interests and habits of a prosperous and enlightened nobleman of the 19th century come to life before the viewer: scientific instruments for understanding the world (a globe, microscope and telescopes) and instruments for still-life drawing (a diagraph and camera lucida). This nobleman paid a great deal of attention to his appearance; there were special tools, that a man would use to give his moustache the desired shape after he washed it or while he was sleeping, as well special “mustache cups” with partitions, designed to protect his mustache from getting wet while drinking tea. In the 19th century, to became popular to smoke long-handled pipes they one needed assistance to use, which turned into a ceremony in its own right. The presented chibouques, decorated with beaded embroidery and mother of pearl insets, and a porcelain “Dutch model” pipe with a tip in the shape of a woman’s head or a coffee pot might well have been collector’s items.
The dining room was one of the most important areas in any noble house: this was the place for receptions and balls, and the daily dining ceremony. The laying out of the table, as well as the services themselves, were astonishingly diverse. The porcelain service dejeuner with views of Pavlovsk being exhibited here was created by the masters I. Nesterov and N. Vasilyev, according to the watercolor paintings of S.F. Shchedrin. The tray with a vase in the shape of pears, pomegranates and grapes, the teapot/pumpkin, sugar dish/pineapple, cream dish/pear and cups/apples from the “still life” tea service played the role of a decorative centerpiece for the table. Luxurious compositions of service, exemplified by the 34 objects from the table and desert services of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, was used at the grand celebratory feasts in the Winter Palace, and the homes of the Petersburg elite. In the nineteenth century, aristocratic etiquette demanded ever more elegance and diversity of dishes, sauces and desserts. It’s worth noting the porcelain napkin rings with their owners’ monogrammed initials, which had become fashionable at that time.
In the “drawing room” section, several different tables for different
purposes are demonstrated: a card table, a chess table, a table for card
games, a table for needlework, a table/display case, a table/ business
card holder. The sofa in the form of two armchairs, connected in the middle
by a small footrest, is called “Siamese twins”. The icon on porcelain,
“Venerable Saint Sergius of Radonezh,” created by the masters of the Imperial
In the “Bedchamber” the viewer can see the setting and specifics of the everyday moments in noble life. Made from expensive mahogany, with exacting detailed “flame” drawings, along with the screen and woodbin make up a complete suite of furniture. In accordance with the eclectic tendencies of the period of historicism, the suite and woodbin are in Empire Style, while the wooden frames of the screen, decorated with pilasters and ceramics is the style of the Renaissance, and the leather upper frames are inspired by “chinoiserie”. The chamber pot included in this exposition is not only a practical part of everyday life, but also an indicator of the owner’s tastes, since it was created at the famous Seversk porcelain factory. It’s elegant, painstakingly executed floral painting harmonizes with its flawless white glazing and generous hints of gold.
Entertainment in the nineteenth century included chess, checkers and backgammon. However, the most popular game, regardless of government prohibitions, was cards. On card tables, exquisitely tooled on the outside with leather or cloth inside, nobles would play whisk, preference or bezique. The theme of cards was widely used in the creation of objects of applied art. Various small everyday objects were decorated with images of card – boxes, plates, brushes and points cases.
The curators of the exhibit are: Natalya Yurievna Guseva, the deputy director of the Department of the History of Russian Culture of the State Hermitage Museum, and Olga Valentinovna Utochkina, the head custodian of the Saint Petersburg Palace of Culture dedicated to the participants in the Enlightenment (the Yusupov Palace).
An illustrated academic catalogue was been published for this exhibition by the “Clean Page” publishing company in Saint Petersburg, including introductory remarks from M.B. Piotrovsky, the Director of the State Hermitage Museum, and N.V. Kukuruzova, the director of the Saint Petersburg Palace of Culture dedicated to the participants in the Enlightenment (the Yusupov Palace). The authors of the articles in the catalogue are O.V. Utochkina and N.Y. Guseva.